Week eight of the 2014 FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF), sponsored by G&C Farm, concluded on Sunday with another big win for Great Britain's Ben Maher in the $150,000 CSIO 4* Grand Prix, presented by Wellington Equestrian Realty. Maher guided Jane Clark's Urico to victory over USA's Laura Kraut and Nouvelle in second and Ireland's Cian O'Connor aboard Quidam's Cherie in third. Also showing at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) on Sunday, McLain Ward (USA) and HH Carlos Z won for the second day in a row with a top finish in the $25,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic.
Steve Stephens concluded a fantastic week of world-class competition with a challenging course for Sunday's $150,000 CSIO 4* Grand Prix. There were riders from 18 different countries in in today's grand prix, and 36 of 50 riders were from outside of the United States. The course yielded 12 clear rounds out 50 entries for an exciting jump-off of top international riders from eight different countries. In the end, it was once again Ben Maher who led the victory gallop after completing the fastest clear jump-off round in 40.85 seconds aboard Urico. The pair finished over three seconds faster than second place finishers Laura Kraut and Nouvelle with a time of 44.09 seconds. Cian O'Connor and Quidam's Cherie took third place honors in 44.23 seconds. Sharn Wordley (NZL) and Ashland Stables' Derly Chin de Muze finished fourth in 46.86 seconds, and Kent Farrington (USA) and Robin Parsky's Blue Angel had the fastest time in 38.30 seconds, but had the last jump down to place fifth.
"It was a difficult course actually in the first round," Maher said after the class. "I thought it got big; after the water jump it really changed. The fences before it weren't too difficult, and then once the water took its toll on the horses, the jumps got bigger and a lot of faults came. There were a lot of clears today and certainly a lot of fast ones in the jump-off. I tried to ride the jump-off that I could do, not one that I couldn't do."
"Urico is an incredibly fast horse," Maher dedcribed. "He kind of anticipates turns before you're even there. It looked like one of those jump-offs where rails were falling, and it maybe wouldn't get too quick. I know that Cian's horse is quite inexperienced; jumping very well, but I did not know how quick he would go. I knew that Beezie would be faster than me probably whatever I did, so I rode the round that I could, and fortunately it was just quicker than Laura today and good enough to win."
Maher described the win with Urico as an important moment in his partnership with the 13-year-old KWPN gelding (Zandor Z x Fedor). "I think this is probably even more special for me today because we took a lot of time with Urico since this time last year," he stated. "We had a few teething problems and a lot of work has gone into him for six or seven months. Jade Steinsdorfer, who looks after him, has put a lot of time in. Jane Clark believed in my system and has let me get on with it and it has really paid off. He certainly feels a very, very useful horse to go along with Cella and my other horses right now. It is a big milestone and a confidence boost for us today."
"He did start very well here," Maher detailed. "He had some good results here last year as well, I just felt that we needed a slightly different program. I went home and worked on building him physically in a different way and getting him stronger and more confident. I am just gaining his trust really. I think that he really believes in me now, and he trusts me. He is a very sensitive horse and a very careful horse. You have to be careful when to push the right buttons and when not to."
Maher has now won four of the eight major grand prix classes at this year's FTI WEF. He also won week one's $30,000 Mar-a-Lago Club Grand Prix aboard Kavanagh IV and topped both week three's Fidelity Investments Grand Prix CSI 3* and week five's $370,000 FEI World Cup Grand Prix CSI-W 5* presented by Rolex aboard Cella.
"It has been incredible here so far for me," Maher acknowledged. "I think Jane's horses love being at home. They get to go in the paddock and be real horses and come to the ring here fresh. Things seem to be going my way right now and I know how quickly things can change around, so I am enjoying it as much as I can while it is happening."
"I love jumping here," he added. "I enjoy the fact that Jane can come and watch as many events as we can get to. The horses haven't jumped too much. We make a very careful plan for here. It's only early in the year, but Urico had three months off the end of last year, and I chose not to use him in the indoor season and keep him ready and fresh for here. Cella also didn't jump so much towards the end of last year. They come over here about four or five times each and don't have to jump too many classes when we're here because I have been pre-qualified for some of the grand prix. The plan is going great so far and I hope it continues, but I am just going to enjoy what's happening so far."
Behind Maher and Urico, Laura Kraut finished second aboard the Evita Group's Nouvelle, a ten-year-old KWPN mare by Solitair x Contango. Nouvelle is just coming back this season after an injury and had a great finish. "She got hurt last June, she broke her pedal bone in her foot, so basically from June until I got here she was off," Kraut explained. "The first fences she jumped were here in January, so today is her very first grand prix and I am really pleased with how she performed. She has matured and I don't think the time of rest seemed to hurt her too much because she has come back sort of where she was ready to be before she got hurt."
Kraut was a little worried about Nouvelle's inexperience in the class, but was hoping for a good result. "I knew that I had Ben and Beezie and Kent and quite a few people behind me," she said. "I was really hoping to finish in the top six, and I was hoping to be double clear. Ben beat me by a lot, he beat me by three seconds. It wasn't like he just beat me. I am really proud of her. I did the inside turns, the one back on the vertical, and she handled that well. I am just thrilled. Her owners are here and they have been long-time supporters of me. Their last grand prix horse was Anthem, so I know they are so excited."
Commenting on Maher's great success, Kraut noted, "He rides great, he has super horses and he deserves to win the classes that he has won. I would like to have a shot to try to beat him at some point. I will get Cedric revved up here here hopefully at some point and we will give it a shot, but at this level you appreciate the superior riding and horses. He and Scott (Brash) are so impressive. It is going to raise the level of riding here. To have number one and number two in the world is just a great opportunity for WEF and for all of the riders here."
In third, Cian O'Connor was jumping Adena Springs' Quidam's Cherie, a nine-year-old Oldenburg mare by Quidam's Rubin x Lifestyle, that the rider has only been partnered with since December. "I got Cherie in middle of December and did one show before coming here," O'Connor explained. "With her previous rider she did 2* grand prixs in Germany, so she is very green. That is the brilliant thing about coming to this festival is that the horses really get mileage, you get experience. I jumped her in the Nations Cup the other night, and she jumped a very good clear in the first round. She was a little tired in the second round and then I gave her a day off yesterday to freshen up, and she really jumped her heart out today."
"I am very excited about her because it has been a while since I have had a horse as talented as that," O'Connor said. "She is so careful and I am just going to drop her down and move her up and not do too much because it is hard when you only have one horse like that. You really want to spare them, and I am looking forward to a good year with her."
On behalf of Wellington Equestrian Realty, Craig Martin spoke about Sunday's fantastic class and his company's continued support of equestrian sport in Wellington. "Wellington Equestrian Realty, we really love sponsoring this class," Martin stated. "I have known Ben for a long time since he was a young fellow. He is definitely a tactician of the sport, and I would love to congratulate him on his win. Congratulations to Laura and Cian as well. The show for us is a very important part of our whole marketing strategy. The way that we feel the direction the show is going, it is only getting bigger and better. It is definitely, without a doubt, one of the best horse shows in the world."
Several special awards were also presented during Sunday's Grand prix. In memory of Niall Grimes, the "CHEERS" perpetual trophy was awarded to Cian O'Connor as the top Irish rider during the CSIO, Nations Cup week. Brazil's Alvaro 'Doda' de Miranda was presented with the Kate Nash Boone Style Award, a perpetual trophy presented by Michael Meller, friends and family to honor the memory of Kate's support and love of "all things equestrian." Beezie Madden (USA) also earned a special award as the Leading Lady Grand Prix Rider for week eight, an award presented by Martha Jolicoeur of Illustrated Properties in memory of Dale Lawler.
Final Results: $150,000 CSIO 4* Grand Prix, presented by Wellington Equestrian Realty
1. URICO: 2001 KWPN gelding by Zandor Z x Fedor
BEN MAHER (GBR), Jane F. Clark: 0/0/40.85
2. NOUVELLE: 2004 KWPN mare by Solitair x Contango
LAURA KRAUT (USA), Evita Group: 0/0/44.09
3. QUIDAM'S CHERIE: 2005 Oldenburg mare by Quidam's Rubin x Lifestyle
CIAN O'CONNOR (IRL), Adena Springs: 0/0/44.23
4. DERLY CHIN DE MUZE: 2003 BWP mare by For Pleasure x Nebab de Reve
SHARN WORDLEY (NZL), Ashland Stables: 0/0/46.86
5. BLUE ANGEL: 2002 AES mare by Luidam x Ascendant
KENT FARRINGTON (USA), Robin Parsky: 0/4/38.30
6. CORTES 'C': 2002 BWP gelding by Randel Z x Darco
BEEZIE MADDEN (USA), Abigail Wexner: 0/4/40.58
7. SHOWGIRL: 2000 Selle Francais mare by Gold De Becourt x Elf III
YANN CANDELE (CAN), The Watermark Group: 0/4/40.84
8. EVITA VAN DE VELDBALIE: 2004 BWP mare by Wandor vd Mispelaere x Clinton
DANIEL DEUSSER (GER), Stephex Stables: 0/4/42.09
9. ZIGALI P S: 2004 KWPN gelding by Kigali x Palfrenier
ERIC LAMAZE (CAN), Artisan Farms LLC: 0/4/42.77
10. ZOE II: 2004 AES mare by Kannan x Goes Without Saying
LORENZO DE LUCA (ITA), Mike Collins: 0/4/43.18
11. ZARA LEANDRA: 2004 KWPN mare by Metropole x Ahorn
PABLO BARRIOS (VEN), ZL Group, Inc: 0/8/42.87
12. MAKAVOY: 2003 KWPN gelding by Hors La Loi II x Ahorn
BEN ASSELIN (CAN), Attache Stables: 0/WD
Source: Press release from Equestrian Sport Productions
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